Small Cars Now Deliver Fuel Efficiency of Big Motorcycles: How'd That Happen?

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2014 Ford Fiesta EcoBoost SFE, Catskill Mountains, NY, Jun 2014

2014 Ford Fiesta EcoBoost SFE, Catskill Mountains, NY, Jun 2014

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How are fuel-efficient are some of today's smaller cars?

It turns out that they now actually equal the fuel economy of larger motorcycles--which is pretty amazing for a four-seat vehicle weighing more than a ton.

Especially since the motorcycles returning comparable gas-mileage figures weigh about one-fifth as much.

DON'T MISS: Auto Industry Doing Fine In Meeting Gas-Mileage Goals, It Turns Out

This interesting factoid came to light in an article in industry trade journal Ward's Auto that considers the landscape of modern plug-in electric cars almost five years after they first hit the market.

The article notes that President Barack Obama's goal of 1 million plug-in vehicles on U.S. roads by the end of this year isn't close to being met, and that electric-car sales have been lower than projected.

2015 Ford Focus SE EcoBoost, Bear Mountain State Park, NY, May 2015

2015 Ford Focus SE EcoBoost, Bear Mountain State Park, NY, May 2015

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And it notes, correctly, that carmakers have been able to meet more stringent corporate average fuel-economy requirements simply by modifying traditional gasoline powertrains.

From downsized, direct-injected, and turbocharged engines to transmissions with eight, nine, and soon 10 speeds, conventional technology turns out to have a lot of headroom to improve efficiency--without adding expensive electrification.

ALSO SEE: 2015 Ford Focus 1.0L EcoBoost: Gas Mileage Review

Author Drew Winter notes that fully one-fifth of Fords sold in Europe are now powered by the company's turbocharged 1.0-liter three-cylinder EcoBoost engine.

That engine is now offered in the U.S. in both the Fiesta subcompact and the Focus compact, though only with a six-speed manual gearbox.

Ford 1.0-liter EcoBoost three-cylinder gasoline engine

Ford 1.0-liter EcoBoost three-cylinder gasoline engine

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Unlike some of Ford's larger EcoBoost engines, the little turbo three appears to outperform its EPA fuel-economy ratings in real-world use.

We achieved an indicated 42 miles per gallon in the Fiesta EcoBoost against a combined rating of 37 mpg, and 40 mpg against a 33-mpg rating in the larger Focus three-cylinder.

MORE: 2014 Ford Fiesta EcoBoost: Gas Mileage Test Returns 40 MPG (Jun 2014)

The numbers for the Fiesta EcoBoost, as Winter points out, are only slightly lower than those for a Triumph Speed Triple motorcycle.

The bike also uses a non-turbocharged 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine and, minus riders, it weighs roughly one-fifth what the Fiesta does.

2014 Ford Fiesta EcoBoost SFE, Catskill Mountains, NY, Jun 2014

2014 Ford Fiesta EcoBoost SFE, Catskill Mountains, NY, Jun 2014

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It's quicker and sportier, surely, but it holds half as many people, virtually no cargo--and returns 34 mpg city, 50 mpg highway.

In other words, as Winter notes in closing, the Obama Administration--and, in fact, many of us--"vastly underestimated how much conventional internal-combustion engines could improve."

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